Boats of Viet Nam
by Luke Spreadborough
Our friend Luke Spreadborough makes occasional business trips to View Nam and he has been kind enough to share his personal photo album with us.
Below are random shots of vessels we passed near the town of Ben Tre, 80km from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city). I was heading towards an island to visit friends and simply took potshots at anything that came within range. Do you find them interesting ?
Almost all are constructed of an unknown (to me at least) hardwood, which appears to be light in weight. Almost all are unpainted save the trim and eyes, the eyes being borrowed from chinese practice. The eyes are for the boat to see. Some believe this, others do not, but the eyes prevail.
The large majority of boats use inboard diesel engines and close inspection of the images will reveal the prescence of anti-squat boards below the transom. Once again I didn't pay anywhere near the attention I should to what I was capturing with my camera, and once I arrived home the images revealed more questions that I would like answered.
If I went to Vietnam on a boat "seeking" holiday it would be different. I may yet do this, I find the styles more than interesting. I don't think any of the boats are local designs, I presume they are adaptations of designs from surrounding countries. This is a presumption though, but I base it on the Vietnamese habit of adopting cultural aspects of China, Thailand and others and making them their own.
The boat I was on (following pictures) was approximately 25ft in length and approx.
5ft beam. I'm terrible at guessing dimensions, use the photographs to get an idea. Unfortunately I never took a picture of the full boat.
The motor is a 24hp diesel as depicted. This boat moved nicely and was very lightweight by the "feel" of it. Did it have squatboards ? Damned if I know, I didn't think to look.
These images give a reasonable idea as to the construction of the boat. The small "deckhouse" is simply a sleeping platform, or somewhere to put things out of the rain. Most boats are used for whatever commercial purpose can be found, the laws are fairly lax in regards to this. Living on the boats is allowed but this is strictly controlled and the government requires that any boat used this way be registered.
Several images are of "Dredges". These boats dredge gravel and sand from the river's bottom, the results being sold for building construction. Unfortunately I didn't get a shot of one in operation. I have seen them in action and the boat appears to be sinking when dredging and water pours over the sides, most of the dredge boats being very low to the water. I would love to have a really close look at one, mainly to see what keeps them afloat.
OK, re the "coconut-collect" images (below). The ships come to buy coconuts for china from local growers, apparently china can't produce enough of their own coconuts. The local boats pull alongside and the coconuts are thrown up to the waiting crew who stow them. I tried to catch the act of throwing but failed.
These shots are from my trip to Ben Tre last year, we took this boat to the island to visit friends. The owner was a very friendly man who was charmed by the idea that I wanted to take photos of his boat and motor, and we explained to him that the images would be for a website (duckworks). He had no problems with this.
The horsepower of the motor (diesel) is unknown to the owner and I couldn't find anything that suggested it's size, presumably it's around ten to fifteen horsepower. The boat moved nicely at full throttle, but one thing I still have not figured out is that the boat has both a rudder and the motor to steer with. I really need to ask about this. From the images it appears that the helmsman holds both, rather odd. If you at the motor of the left image, below you will see the helmsman is holding a tiller for the boat's rudder and the motor appears to be held by nothing at all. The longtail I was on had a plastic bag wrap around the prop, the helmsman quickly shutdown, spun the motor around so that the prop was at the bow where his wife plucked off the bag and then the whole lot was spun around again. This took less than a minute and suggests to me that the motor was not tied down. I didn't even think to look until I was back in Australia. Damn!
A final note about all of this, Ben Tre never has storms. Never. Sure, they do get the daily thunderstorm but it never has any wind to speak of, merely a breeze. Some of the boats appear to be suited to river travel only, and having never seen wind and wave I wonder about their seaworthiness. Others appear to be more than capable. Outboards are largely unheard of in these parts, however we came across two 40hp Yamahas at the end of the trip that appeared to be of late seventies vintage. My guide was as suprised as I was to see them. They were on two western style boats that were moored near the local market.
Finally, this is all fresh water. The river is part of the Mekong Delta and from what I have been told the freshwater pushes up to thirteen kilometers out to sea at different times of the year. Whatever the timber is they use to make the boats from it certainly is rot resistant.